“Sometimes life feels like playing football with no pads.”
– R. Brown, 2019
In a time long ago and far away, I played football. The American version, that is. The kind that requires helmets, shoulder pads, thigh pads, kneepads, cleats, and (sometimes) rib pads.
There was never a doubt in my mind about the need for all that padding. The player-on-player contact is always forceful and unforgiving. The point – after all – is for me to smash into the other guy with all my might and knock him down to the ground.
Fortunately for me, the playing phase of my football career ended in junior high school after I suffered first a concussion and then a severely twisted ankle. The closest I get to a real football game now is on my living room couch in front of the TV screen.
I know, I know… some of you tough guys are reading that last line and intoning the word “Wimp!” toward your computer screen right now.
And I am totally OK with that.
While I have successfully avoided having my bell rung, ACL torn, or femur snapped on the gridiron all these years, I must confess I have not been quite as successful avoiding injury on the field of LIFE.
I have discovered that sometimes – as the wise philosopher at the top of this page remarked – the game of life bears a striking resemblance to playing football without the benefit of pads.
Sometimes we have an idea… an idea that seems truly inspired and brilliant to us. We take our precious idea, excitedly put it out there in front of other people, and then watch it get tackled, and smashed, and pummeled to bits.
At other times we become vulnerable toward another person… opening up the depths of our heart and soul to them in a way that leaves us truly exposed. And then occasionally – not every time, happily – that person rewards our vulnerability with scorn or (even worse) indifference.
Or we might choose to adopt a cause that is virtuous and noble – capable (at least in our mind) of rendering genuine, positive change in the world. We wave the flag, beat the drum, call out to rally the troops, only to find ourselves met with a deafening, hurtful silence.
It can feel quite a bit like football without pads.
Sometimes those body blows are instructive learning moments… shedding light on a heretofore-unseen weakness in my idea/feeling/cause. So I use the pain of that moment as a guide to my efforts to “shore up” that which was flimsy and inadequate.
At other times though, my response to those experiences of “full contact rejection” is to retreat to my corner, cower, lick my wounds, and make a vow to never again put myself out there like that.
OK… full disclosure; my first impulse upon rejection is almost ALWAYS to choose the retreating, cowering, licking, vowing option.
Getting back out there again after getting your block knocked off is a really hard thing to do. You know EXACTLY what that bodyslam feels like and you are not anxious to repeat the experience.
And I don’t know if this observation is actually true or not, but it seems to me as if more and more people are lining up these days, taking aim, and eagerly waiting to blast away at risk takers.
Sometimes that pounding is enough to convince you that the sidelines of life is the best place to spend the game… safely spectating.
But I hope you don’t.
I hope you will trust Jesus when he assures you, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).
I hope you will keep putting yourself out there… padless and vulnerable.
I hope you will choose to learn from the pain of those bumps and bruises and maybe even come to give THANKS for them.
I hope you will never accept the lie that tells you that WATCHING life is the same as LIVING it.
The world needs your gifts…
… even if we don’t always act like we do.